It’s hard to deny last season was a great season for Real Madrid.
Zinédine Zidane’s side won their first La Liga title since the 2011/12 season, with the Frenchman becoming the first Real Madrid manager since José Mourinho to lead Los Blancos to league glory – both Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benítez tried but failed.
And while this season hasn’t quite lived up to expectations so far – they currently sit third in the league, there’s no doubt they will want to go for a record-breaking third Champions League victory.
A win over Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow will be crucial as they look to get out of a tough group, and Spurs fans will look enviously at one of the players who’s been crucial to Los Blancos’ success, their former midfielder Luka Modrić.
He may not be the biggest in stature, but boy do you notice it when he is not playing.
Surviving a tricky start
It’s not always been that way though, he endured a real tough time at the beginning of his career in the Spanish capital after moving from Tottenham Hotspur.
Modrić gained 32.2 per cent of the votes.
At the time, he had played just 19 times, for a total of 717 minutes, scoring once and failing to find a proper position – unable to quite prove himself as a Xabi Alonso-style deep-lying playmaker or Mesut Özil-esque attacking midfielder.
He responded in Croatian newspaper Sportske, saying: “This is Real Madrid. I understand there is great pressure for new signings to succeed here.
“I’m not making excuses, I am not that kind of person, but it is very challenging to adapt to life at a big club like Madrid.
“I have had a few good performances, if not in every game, but I believe that I can prove I have something to offer.”
And since then he definitely proved he did have something to offer.
Mourinho was so impressed with him after working with him that he wanted to take him to Chelsea with him second time round.
Carlo Ancelotti also hailed the Croatian.
“I can only tell you Luka Modrić is definitely one of best midfield players in the world,” he said last November.
“He has great technical abilities, reads the game and has a strong personality that he has built over the years. Besides that, he is a very pleasant person.”
And current boss Zidane is also a massive fan.
“It’s his tranquillity,” the Frenchman said when asked about him by Sky Sports.
“I have the best players and we could talk about any of them, but if you ask me about Luka, I have to talk about his calmness with the ball at his feet.
“La tranquilidad. That’s what he gives to the team when he’s playing well. He makes the rest play.”
And Modrić certainly appreciates his manager’s trust in him.
“Since he came here he has given me huge confidence,” he told Sky Sports.
“He talks a lot with me.
“When you feel that a coach believes in you, it gives you the confidence to perform better. He has improved me a lot as a player.”
Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly the Madrid poster boy, but it’s Modrić who makes the team tick.
He does not score many goals or even provide regular assists – he has just 11 goals and 33 assists in 223 appearances for Madrid.
If you look at the league statistics last season, he’ was outpassed by Toni Kroos – averaging 62.7 passes per 90 minutes compared to the German’s 71.9, while his average successful take ons of 2.1 per 90 minutes is behind Isco, who led the way for Real Madrid with 2.9.
But there’s more to his game than the statistics may suggest.
He starts moves rather than finishing them, or as Zidane says, he makes the rest play.
Retire in Madrid?
Ronaldo signed a new five-year deal with Los Blancos last November, signalling his intention to stay there for the rest of his career.
Only the month before, to much less fanfare because Modric isn’t Ronaldo, the Croatian signed a deal to stay with the Spanish side until 2020.
Speaking then, he said: “I’ll give everything and work hard to match the club’s demands.
“I hope to have many more successes here.”
And he even recognised how he’s evolved since his less-than-impressive start.
“The criticism didn’t hurt me,” he added.
“I knew I had come to the biggest club in the world, where the demands are huge – I was prepared for that.
“I didn’t start well but I never doubted. I knew I would succeed sooner or later.
“My wish is to end my career at Real.”
And if he stays in the Spanish capital, it would be no surprise to see him be the man behind Zidane and co’s success until he hangs up his boots.
And when he does, he certainly won’t be remembered as the worst Real Madrid signing of 2012.